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Notebook: Sixth alternate decides it's worth the trip

| Tuesday, July 18, 2006

HOYLAKE, England -- Brad Faxon loves the British Open too much to stay away, even with little chance of playing.

Faxon was the sixth alternate, reason enough for him to travel across the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday night to be around Royal Liverpool in case a half-dozen guys decide to pull out.

"If I didn't come over and my number got called, I'd kill myself," Faxon said Monday evening while ordering pints at a pub. "I wouldn't kill myself, but I'd be pretty upset."

Then he paused to assess the situation before saying with only a tinge of desperation, "Somebody has got to withdraw."

A year ago, Faxon endeared himself to the British gallery by coming over to Scotland to take his chances in a local qualifier the weekend before the British Open. He narrowly earned one of three spots from a 96-man field.

He didn't get that chance this year because the Royal & Ancient moved up local qualifying by one week, making it impractical.

Faxon also didn't get a chance in the U.S. qualifier because it was canceled by heavy rain that flooded Congressional. The R&A awarded the spots off the world ranking, and Faxon was too far down the list.

Now, his only chance is for six players to withdraw, which is unlikely.

The trip hasn't been a total waste of time. Faxon is allowed to practice at Royal Liverpool, and "I even got a car park pass." He plans to play today with Brett Quigley, Mark Calcavecchia and Jerry Kelly.

"I get chills just coming here," Faxon said. "I feel rejuvenated."

And if he has to turn around and go home on Thursday?

"You know, we just walked a mile for dinner, walked another mile to a pub, I haven't slept, and we're just having a blast," he said.

Oh, and there's one other upside.

"I'm hitting my 3-iron 260 yards," he said. "I never do that."

Blast from the past

Warren Bladon has all the traits of a long-shot qualifier at the British Open.

He makes about $10 an hour framing pictures in Coventry, and the only golf he plays is Wednesday and Saturday, a regular game he keeps with his friends at Forest of Arden. He moonlights as a plumber's assistant. Money is so scarce that his girlfriend paid the $200 entry fee for the British Open, asking only that he practice a little harder.

Bladon, 40, did well enough to make it through regional qualifying, then earned one of three spots in a local qualifier last week.

"I was a little surprised," Bladon said.

But there is more to him that a blue-collar worker who can play.

Bladon has played in the Masters, even getting in nine holes of a practice round with Jack Nicklaus, then played in the Memorial. He once competed against Tiger Woods for the silver medal that goes to the low amateur at the British Open, losing out in 1996 when Woods shot 66 in the second round to make the cut at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

Bladon is known to most European players as having won the British Amateur at Turnberry in 1996, but his professional career didn't pan out.

"I traveled the world playing golf, and I found it difficult to get a sponsor," Bladon said yesterday. "To get a full sponsorship in your 30s is difficult when there's all these young players coming up behind you."

Bladon ran a pub for a while, had a marriage end in divorce, and now is quite happy framing pictures and playing golf.

This is quite a change.

"I just want to do as well as I can," he said. "I want to come off the course knowing that I haven't been overcome by it, control myself and hit the right shots at the right time. And if I do that, then I'll be happy."

Bladon already is a little ahead of the game.

He earned about $1,600 from final qualifying, and is guaranteed $3,800 for competing in the British Open. That should at least help him pay back his girlfriend for the entry fee.

Eyes on Seve

Seve Ballesteros, whose career was derailed by back injuries, plans to play the British Open for the first time in five years.

Then again, it's still early in the week.

Ballesteros has talked about returning to competition over the past few years, but then withdraws as the tournament gets closer. He played the Madrid Open late last year and missed the cut by 14 shots, and played last month in the French Open, finishing two rounds at 20 over par.

"Seve's here?" Nick Faldo said yesterday.

Faldo said he doesn't blame Ballesteros for only wanting to play in the Masters and British Open, the two majors he won that come with exemptions that last a lifetime at Augusta National and until he is 65 at the British Open.

"That's what I would do -- pop up for the odd Masters and British Open," Faldo said. "I don't think he's trying to rebuild his career."

Waiting game

Coming off his first PGA Tour victory, Trevor Immelman wasn't sure he would be at the British Open.

Immelman's wife, Carminita, is expecting their first child at home in Orlando, Fla. After holding off Tiger Woods to win the Western Open two weeks ago near Chicago, the South African went home and got a good report from the doctor.

"We're expecting the end of next week," Immelman said. "We went to the doctor right before I came over here and he didn't see any chance that she was going to have the kid this week. We've got a few people with their cell phones on, and they'll let me know if something happens and I'll try to get back."

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